Sub-theme 05: [SWG] Organization as Communication: Unpacking the Critical, Transformative, and Emancipatory Role of Communication

Nicolas Bencherki
TÉLUQ Montréal, Canada
Dan Kärreman
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Consuelo Vásquez
Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada

Call for Papers

Many would agree that organizations have become a central institution of contemporary societies: we work in organizations and consume their products and services and our daily lives are affected, directly or indirectly, by the decisions they make (Mumby, 2013a). Critical scholars in the fields of organizational discourse and communication studies have at length examined how organizations shape our identities and experiences in the workplace and beyond. These works have highlighted the pervasiveness of corporate and managerial discourses (for instance, promoting ideas of efficiency, performance and individualism) and their impact on our definition of self, work and democracy (e.g. Deetz, 1992). Studies have also pointed at the development of (new) technologies of control based in neoliberal-managerial values such as freedom, individualism and entrepreneurship (Fleming, 2019), and the efforts of individual and collective identity construction through the embodiment (and sometimes resistance) of work-related discourses of subjectivation (e.g. Ashcraft, 2013; Kärreman, 201). Scholars have additionally explored the relation between power and authority, and the ways they are accomplished through meaning negotiation (Porter et al., 2017).
In these studies, the focus is less on organizations per se and more on the discursive organizing of people, things, goods, values, identities and societies. Along the lines of Foucault’s (1972) notion of discourse – defined as a contingent social system that produces and legitimates (certain) knowledge and meaning – this shift of focus echoes what Carlone and Taylor (1998) called the “organizing of culture”, and more recently, what Mumby (2013b) coined as the “communicative politics of organizing” (see also Kärreman, 2010). Both expressions put on the front stage a communication-centered explanation of how power is organized in society. Such a communicative perspective allows us to explore, for example, the organizing of the meaning and value systems through which we make sense of our world (e.g. Dempsey & Sanders, 2010; Kärreman & Alvesson, 2010), the “work of communication” in organizing work practices and economies under contemporary capitalism (Kuhn et al., 2017), the communicative organizing of the production-consumption relations that characterize our contemporary societies and notions of self (Mumby, 2013b) or the alternative organizing of resistance in social political movements (Parker et al., 2014).
This sub-theme, sponsored by the Standing Working Group (SWG) 05 on “Organization as Communication”, wishes to pursue this discussion around the critical, transformative and emancipatory role of communication. While constitutive explanations of power and discourse are not new (e.g. Deetz & Mumby, 1990; Hardy & Phillips, 2004), we believe explicit discussion of the political implications of a discursive/communicative understanding of the organization–society relationship, as well as of the very constitution of organizations, is more than ever needed. We live an era of constant crisis (economic, environmental, political, ideological) that comes with great challenges for our societies and that, we believe, are better understood – and possibly addressed from a genuinely communicative standpoint. The argument that communication does not only serve representational purposes but that, instead, it is constitutive of reality is today well documented (e.g. Cooren et al., 2011).
Moreover, there is an increasing consensus that a shift has occurred in our collective system of value, mostly attributable to the neoliberal economic model that pervades our relations to others (Dean, 2005; Mumby, 2016). This places questions of communication, power and politics at the center, as they are intimately tied to struggles over meaning. Communication creates the very possibility for power to be exercised: studying how this works enables us to foresee alternative and more responsible forms of organizing our societies.
We invite papers that address the particular focus of the sub-theme or that are concerned with the constitutive and formative relations between communication and organizing more generally. Below is a list of indicative, but not exhaustive, topics and questions related to the sub-theme:

  • How can critical approaches, theories and concepts contribute to unpacking the constitutive and transformative role of communication?

  • How can power and authority be studied from a communicative standpoint?

  • What is the political function of communication for organization and more broadly in organizing our world?

  • How can communication transform organization and society?

  • How does the idea that communication is constitutive of organizations change the way we may address issues of power and authority in organizations?

  • To what extent is power integral to the organization–communication relationship?



  • Ashcraft, K.L. (2013): “The glass slipper: ‘Incorporating’ occupational identity in management studies.” Academy of Management Review, 38 (1), 6–31.
  • Carlone, D., & Taylor, B. (1998): “Organizational communication and cultural studies: A review essay.” Communication Theory, 8 (3), 337–367.
  • Cooren, F., Kuhn, T., Cornelissen, J.P., & Clark, T. (2011): “Communication, organizing and organization: An overview and introduction to the special issue.” Organization Studies, 32 (9), 1149–1170.
  • Dean, J. (2005): “Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of Politics.” Cultural Politics: An International Journal, 1 (1), 51–74.
  • Deetz, S.A. (1992): Democracy in an Age of Corporate Colonization. Developments in Communication and the Politics of Everyday Life. Albany: SUNY Press.
  • Deetz, S.A., & Mumby, D.K. (1990): “Power, discourse, and the workplace: Reclaiming the critical tradition.” Annals of the International Communication Association, 13 (1), 18–47.
  • Dempsey, S.E., & Sanders, M.L. (2010): “Meaningful work? Nonprofit marketization and work/life imbalance in popular autobiographies of social entrepreneurship.” Organization, 17 (4), 437–459.
  • Fleming, P. (2019): “Robots and Organization Studies: Why Robots Might Not Want to Steal Your Job.” Organization Studies, 40 (1), 23–38.
  • Foucault, M. (1972): Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. New York: Pantheon.
  • Hardy, C., & Phillips, N. (2004): “Discourse and Power.” In: D. Grant, C. Hardy, C. Oswick & L. Putnam (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Discourse. London: SAGE Publications, 299–316.
  • Kärreman, D. (2010): “The Power of Knowledge: Learning from ‘Learning by Knowledge-Intensive Fim’.” Journal of Management Studies, 47 (7), 1405–1416.
  • Kärreman, D. (2011): “Leaders as Bullies: Leadership through Intimidation.” In: M. Alvesson & A. Spicer (eds.): Metaphors We Lead By: Understanding Leadership in the Real World. London: Taylor & Francis, 162–179.
  • Kärreman, D., & Alvesson, M. (2010): “Understanding ethical closure in organizational settings – the case of media organizations.” In: S.L. Muhr, B.M. Sørensen & S. Vallentin (eds.): Ethics and Organizational Practice. Questioning the Moral Foundations of Management. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 57–80.
  • Kuhn, T., Ashcraft, K.L., & Cooren, F. (2017): The Work of Communication. Relational Perspectives on Working and Organizing in Contemporary Capitalism. New York: Routledge.
  • Mumby, D.K. (2013a): Organizational Communication: A Critical Approach. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • Mumby, D.K. (2013b): “Critical Theory and Postmodernism.” In: L.L. Putnam & D.K. Mumby (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Communication: Advances in Theory, Research, and Methods. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 101–126.
  • Mumby, D.K. (2016): “Organizing beyond organization: Branding, discourse, and communicative capitalism.” Organization, 23 (6), 884–907.
  • Parker, M., Cheney, G., Fournier, V., & Land, C. (eds.) (2014): The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization. New York: Routledge.
  • Porter, A.J., Kuhn, T.R., & Nerlich, B. (2018): “Organizing Authority in the Climate Change Debate: IPCC Controversies and the Management of Dialectical Tensions.” Organization Studies, 39 (7), 873–898.
Nicolas Bencherki is an Associate Professor at TÉLUQ Montréal, Canada. His research focuses the role of communication in accounting for the action and existence of organizations, in particular community-based organizations, with a special interest in the notion of property and its relation to authority. He has published his work in journals such as ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Management Communication Quarterly’, and the ‘Journal of Communication’.
Dan Kärreman is Professor in Management and Organization Studies at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, and Professor in Management at Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom. He is also affiliated to the LUMOS group at Lund University, Sweden. His research interests include critical management studies, knowledge work, organization communication, identity in organizations, leadership, organizational control and research methodology.
Consuelo Vásquez is an Associate Professor in the Département de Communication Sociale et Publique at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada. Her research interests include ethnography, project organizing, volunteering and the communicative constitution of organizations. Her work has been published in ‘Communication Theory’, ‘Communication Measures and Methods’, ‘Discourse and Communication’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Qualitative Research in Organization and Management’, ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, and other international peer-reviewed journals.